NOTES ON FILM & RESTORATION

06/25/2021

Live long enough and you’ll see so many truisms accreting from the ether of that they will come to seem like a wall of barnacles at the bottom of a boat in harbor. In the world of cinema, for instance. We have “slow = boring” (tell that to fans of the Godfather films, There Will Be Blood or Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). We have “people don’t like reading subtitles.” We have “people don’t like black and white.” Of more recent vintage, there’s “old movies are racist and sexist.”

And then there’s this one: “people don’t like to watch silent movies.”

A friend of mine told me that when he started showing silent movies to his daughter, her first reaction was: “What are they saying?” And then she got used to it. Which is unsurprising. But even when she was wondering what the people onscreen were saying, she was still interested.

My sons were entranced with silent films when they were boys. I remember my younger son asking me if we could see Metropolis again… the complete version! Their sister, almost two, is engrossed by Chaplin films. The only difference between my friend’s daughter and my children and anybody else is that we love the work, which means we know the work, and we want to introduce them to it.

Whenever anyone spouts any of the above truisms, always mindlessly (because they can’t really be spouted any other way), it’s because they haven’t had anyone in their life to introduce them to anything slow, subtitled, black and white, older than 2 years, or silent… or some combination thereof.

The Film Foundation has participated in or facilitated the restoration of somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 silent films. The fact that any of them has survived is a miracle. They are the source. They are vivid records of a world—many worlds—gone by. Many of them are astonishingly beautiful and spontaneously inventive, unencumbered by many of the conventions that solidified over the years. And when you really look at them, with your full attention, and maybe allow yourself to acclimate to them, you will enter a world of wonders.

- Kent Jones

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